Toronto Politics

Keeping up with the Torys

It’s been a few years since I’ve written anything about John Tory, so I figured I would take a break from stressing over the decline of Civilization into anarchy and check in on him. Before we look at Toronto of today, lets look at what I last had to say about him. At the time I primarily wrote about transit, but this comment can be applied to his policies across the board:

John Tory on the other hand is the man who offers nothing but a polite tone of voice and a surplus of salmon coloured shirts. The plan he provides can be paraphrased as “We’ll do everything and anything, except for improving public transit or generally investing any money in infrastructure whatsoever.”

If suffering through two years of developmental malaise has taught us anything, it’s that Tory means what he says when he says nothing. Tory’s “leadership” has amounted to perhaps the most Toronto of Toronto political epochs, where nobody makes good decisions, bad short term (but easy to sell) policy is enacted its place, and old debates carry on until the very reasons for acting are forgotten. What could better represent the political dynamics of the city than that? I want to speak specifically to transit before I get more general, but…

Transit

Well, I hate to say “I told you so”… so I’ll say “suck it” instead. You morons voted for a man whose campaign platform made no sense and was directly conflicted with all available evidence or reason because it sounded good, and that’s what we’re getting. Transit planning that sounds good but will accomplish nothing. SmartTrack continues to be be a solution for the transit problems that Toronto doesn’t have, it has been scaled back so severely that barely resembles what people elected Tory to build, and the business case is so shaky that the city has to hide external analysis of its cost and benefits. The Gardiner continues to silently mock us from the Waterfront. The Scarborough subway continues to be “on the horizon”, although we are somehow already being taxed for it. City Council recently rejected a motion that would require councilors to make planning decisions based on evidence.

Yep, Toronto is exactly where we left it before Tory was elected on a platform of fixing transit.

The City Budget/Services

If there is one sad truth in politics, it is that the Conservative movement has successfully destroyed the ability of the electorate to understand how their tax dollars are spent. (For a good tangential analysis on this, read Lost in the Suburbs by Stephen Dale.) People know they pay taxes, and they know the government does things, but they do not appreciate the relationship between the two. To his credit John Tory hasn’t exacerbated this problem or even actively encouraged it the way Rob Ford did, but he hasn’t exactly helped the situation either. Instead he’s been the ultimate “You have to go along to get along” politician. The city grows about 1% each year and its property tax revenue increases by 0.5-0.6% each year; the reality is that the majority of that growth comes from recent arrivals and people closer to the bottom of the tax bracket than the top. If we assume that service cost pressures follow the lines of population growth more closely than they do tax base growth (which it does), then that means that service demand is increasing faster than revenue growth. So what does this all mean for the budget? Well, it should mean the government is raising taxes to ensure that services are expanding to meet the needs required to deliver them. I trust I don’t need to tell you that hasn’t happened. Tory has let taxes grow at less than the rate of inflation in each of his terms as Mayor, and even inflation-pegged revenue growth would not cover the shortfall generated by increased service demands. Instead, he has promised restraint, ordering departments to cut spending by 2% while at the same time insisting that services are not impacted. The result? Homeless shelters are full, swimming pools are being closed, TTC services are being pared back, and other programs are being eliminated; all while the system claims to be booming.

Let me ask you this; if John Tory was running a business and was at the same time saying “business is booming” while laying people off and reducing sales how would we evaluate him? I’m thinking he wouldn’t do well. (Let’s ignore the fact that this is how most businesses are run these days).

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